31 Dec 2018

12 Mar 18 - Chile: A Visit To The Horny Altiplano Lakes

As part of a three month trip abroad, I was going to spend twelve days in Chile. I had visited Chile in mid Sep 02, but found it was a bit disappointing. My time was spent around Central Chile & the Valparaiso coastline. I found the forest sites visited were quiet, but I guess it would be similar to Scandinavia in mid March & perhaps too early in the breeding season for some species to be vocal. It didn't help that I didn't have any recordings of key species, so I was restricted to having to wait for something to call & record it. Then using playback to encourage it to show itself. This approached worked well in most countries twenty years ago. But it didn't work well in Chile, given the lack of species calling. I fared better around the coastline. 

I have looked forward to returning at a better time of the year since that trip. Most Birders visit around Christmas/New Year, whereas I was arriving in March. Perhaps not the classic time to visit, but the Chile trip was designed to fill the twelve days gap from when a Birdquest trip to Northern Colombia ended & when I needed to arrive in Ushuaia, prior to the Atlantic Odyssey cruise from Argentina back to Holland. Having spent a week in the central Chile, the main areas to visit were the Northern Chile sites & from Chiloe Island back to Santiago. There were also some high elevation sites around Santiago I wanted to visit. The plan was to fly North to Calama & after visiting sites around San Pedro de Atacama, drive North to Arica & visit additional sites around Arica. With 450 miles between Calama & Arica, I accepted I was going to pay significantly more for a one-way car hire, but I didn't have the time to consider driving back again. I wanted to fly from Arica to Chiloe Island, but I had to build in an overnight stop in Santiago. I had another hired car booked which again was another one-way drive back to Santiago. Overall, the plan worked well, but I could have done with another two or three days around the Santiago area. However, I do want to visit Easter Island & the Juan Fernandez Islands in the future, so the high elevation sites around Santiago could be combined with that plan.

I arrived into Santiago airport after an overnight flight from Bogota, Colombia. Unfortunately, the flight was over an hour late arriving. Consequently, I arrived at the domestic check-in desk for the internal flight back North to Calama about fifteen minutes after the flight closed. Fortunately, the internal carrier, LATAM agreed to check me in for the next flight without having to pay a rebooking fee. I would arrive about two hours later than planned, but that was pretty good in the circumstances. I had time for a leisurely breakfast in the airport, before heading off to the gate. I arrived into Calama at 12:30 & quickly collected the hire car for the next six days. Calama is one of the main cities in the Northern foothills of the Andes & well placed to get to the touristy town of San Pedro de Atacama near to the Altiplano. My main reason for visiting was to look for the only Coot species I hadn't seen, Horned Coot. This has a limited Chilean range, but it is reliable at its Altiplano lake stronghold of Laguna Menique & Laguna Miscanti: about three hour drive to the South East. The road was good & fairly quiet and after about an hour & a half I arrived at San Pedro de Atacama. After a few circuits of the town, I finally found my accommodation for the night, checked in, bought some food for later & made a coffee to take with me. By 15:00 I was heading off to the lagunas. The road was good & still quiet and about an hour later I was turning off onto the dirt road to the park. 
Tropic of Capricorn: Officially, I was heading out of the Tropics. But neither side of the line felt very tropical. San Pedro de Atacama is around 2400 metres asl & the lakes are over 4100 metres with local mountains that go close to 6000 metres
It is a long entrance track, but I arrived to find the park entrance gate was still open. This site was like all the sites I visited in Chile (except for one), where there were no problems using a normal two wheel drive car to get around. After paying the fee, I was told the park would be locking up at 18:00. This gave me an hour & a half to find the Horned Coots. There were other potential Ticks here, but while Horned Coot also occurs in NW Argentina & SW Bolivia, it can be difficult to find in Argentina & I've not got any plans to head to Bolivia in the near future. I had looked for it unsuccessfully back in Nov 1998 in Argentina. After another ten minute drive I arrived at the viewpoint overlooking Laguna Miscanti. I could see a variety of species on the lake or by the shoreline, but all the Coots were Slate-coloured Coots. I didn't linger for too long as my time was limited & decided to drive further along the track to the viewpoint overlooking Laguna Menique.
Laguna Miscanti: This is the first lake reached
One of the many stunning mountains which looked to be volcanic in origin
Back out with the scope & this time there were at least sixteen Horned Coots among the Slate-coloured Coots. The first key target on my Chile plan was in the bag.
Horned Coot: The Chilean population is around 600 individuals
Horned Coot: They are a large Coot species with this bizarre wattle which extends along most of the length of the upper surface of the bill with tufts on the wattle
Horned Coot
Andean Flamingo: Immature. The black eye & extensive black on the bill confirms the identification
Andean Goose: A common species near water on the Altiplano
The two viewpoints weren't close to the lakes to avoid disturbance to the Birds feeding along the shallow edges. While I was there, the handful of other visitors were keeping in the designated edges. However, there was a sudden disturbance at the water's edge as a Culpeo Fox raced out into the shallow waterline & grabbed a Horned Coot. It clearly wasn't prepared to follow the rules.
Culpeo Fox: That's one less Horned Coot in the Chilean population
With my time being limited, I decided to head back along the track towards the small reserve office & toilets to look for Passerines. Many of the Altiplano species are thinly distributed & it can be quicker to slowly drive to initially search for them. Once found, then I either try approaching slowly using the car as a hide or getting out & walking. There were a few other target species including Cordilleran Canastero.
Cordilleran Canastero: The initial views were not helpful. While I could see it was a Canastero, there were other species which also occur in this region of Chile & they all look the same from this angle
Cordilleran Canastero: Fortunately, it turned around when the relatively uniform wings & mantle could be seen to confirm it was a Cordilleran Canastero. The other potential confusion species have dark wings (Creamy-breasted Canastero) or more rufous wings (Lesser (Sharp-billed) Canastero & Canyon Canastero). There may be habitat difference which also rule those species out, but if that was the case, it was something I wasn't aware of
Cordilleran Canastero: They occur from central Peru to West Bolivia, Northern Chile & NW Argentina
Cordilleran Canastero: They are well camouflaged for this habitat
Cordilleran Canastero
Another identification challenge in Chile & Argentina are the Yellow-finches. Although, half the battle for me is to stay awake. Think about a dull juvenile Greenfinch & you won't be far away from what female & immature individuals look like. Males are brighter, but it doesn't help if there are no males in sight. I saw a small party of Yellow-finches by the track & grabbed some photos. Unfortunately, they flew before I had the chance to get closer. At the time, I didn't get the chance to figure them out. I decided to check the photos that evening, but I forgot. Looking at the photos as I'm writing this Blog Post, I'm pleased to see they were Greater Yellow-finches. They are at the Northern limited of their range at Laguna Menique & Laguna Miscanti & some Birders have seen them here. I hoped to see them at one of the high elevation sites near Santiago, but this is where I ran out of time.
Greater Yellow-finch: The long primaries & very dull colouration with little yellow confirm this is a Greater Yellow-finch. Bright-rumped Yellow-finch would be brighter & has shorter primaries. Additionally, the bill doesn't have a curved culmen which is a feature of Greenish Yellow-finch
Greater Yellow-finch: This shows another view of the bill shape. Not the most exciting Tick, but I'm pleased I saw some
All too soon, a park vehicle arrived to say it was time to leave. I knew I would have limited time around the lakes & my time was severely impacted by the time lost due to the missed internal flight. However, I had still managed to see the Horned Coots & a couple of bonus Ticks. Plus, I would rather be asked to leave, than to get to the entrance to find there is a locked gate & the staff had left. Although, I had to leave the area around the lakes, there was nothing to stop me continuing to scan, once I had passed beyond the entrance. The first highlight was a feeding party of a half dozen Lesser Rheas on one of the hillsides. As I got closer to the road, I started to flush large parties of Golden-spotted Ground-doves.
Lesser Rhea: This is the tarapacensis subspecies which is one of the subspecies of Puna Lesser Rhea
Rufous-naped Ground-tyrant: The rufous nape is largely burnt out in this photo in the early evening light. The black wings, rump & tail help to confirm the identify from this photo
Vicuna: There were at least 35 feeding on the hillsides on the way back to the road
The Altiplano was more vegetated on the hillsides on the way back to the road
A Mountain Caracara provided on one final species of interest on the road back to San Pedro de Atacama.
Mountain Caracara: Looks like it had come down to the pool for a drink. The black head, mantle, wings & white rump & tail with a broad black sub-terminal band makes this an easy Caracara to identify
I took advantage of the tourist side of the town to find a restaurant serving a decent pizza & natural fruit drink before heading off to catch up on lost sleep, as I hadn't slept well on the flights. It had been a good start to the trip & I would have struggled to squeeze in the plans around San Pedro de Atacama if I hadn't been able to catch that next flight as promptly as I did.

30 Dec 2018

30 Dec 18 - Index To My Porpoise Posts

This Blog Post is an Index to all the Blog Posts covering my Porpoise sightings. The following Blog Posts cover all my Rorqual Whale, Baleen Whale, Sperm Whale, Beaked Whale, Beluga Whale & Narwhal, Blackfish, Atlantic Dolphin, Pacific Dolphin and Porpoise Posts. The taxonomy follows the Marine Mammals of the World (Second Edition) book. There are links to the Posts against each entry below. Alternatively, you can click on a particular species in the Keywords section on the right side of the Blog to show all Posts for the selected species. Finally, selecting the Cetaceans Keyword to show all Cetacean Posts. I will continue to add to the photos and links as I write new Cetacean Blogs.
Harbour Porpoise: Slapton, UK (25 Feb 17)
Harbour Porpoise: English Channel (11 May 18)
Spectacled Porpoise: At the Estancia Harberton museum, Argentina (27 Mar 18)
Burmeister's Porpoise: At the Estancia Harberton museum, Argentina (27 Mar 18)

29 Dec 2018

29 Dec 18 - Index To My Pacific Dolphin Posts

This Blog Post is an Index to all the Blog Posts covering my Dolphin sightings. The following Blog Posts cover all my Rorqual Whale, Baleen Whale, Sperm Whale, Beaked Whale, Beluga Whale & Narwhal, Blackfish, Atlantic Dolphin, Pacific Dolphin and Porpoise Posts. The taxonomy follows the Marine Mammals of the World (Second Edition) book. There are links to the Posts against each entry below. Alternatively, you can click on a particular species in the Keywords section on the right side of the Blog to show all Posts for the selected species. Finally, selecting the Cetaceans Keyword to show all Cetacean Posts. I will continue to add to the photos and links as I write new Cetacean Blogs.
Dusky Dolphin: Arica Pelagic, Chile (17 Mar 18)
Peale's Dolphin: From a rib at the Punihuil Penguin colony, Chiloe Island, Chile. Unfortunately, this individual is catch up with fishing gear (20 Mar 18)
Peale's Dolphin: At the Estancia Harberton museum, Argentina (27 Mar 18)

28 Dec 2018

28 Dec 18 - Index To My Atlantic Dolphins Photos

This Blog Post is an Index to all the Blog Posts covering my Dolphin sightings. The following Blog Posts cover all my Rorqual Whale, Baleen Whale, Sperm Whale, Beaked Whale, Beluga Whale & Narwhal, Blackfish, Atlantic Dolphin, Pacific Dolphin and Porpoise Posts. The taxonomy follows the Marine Mammals of the World (Second Edition) book. There are links to the Posts against each entry below. Alternatively, you can click on a particular species in the Keywords section on the right side of the Blog to show all Posts for the selected species. Finally, selecting the Cetaceans Keyword to show all Cetacean Posts. I will continue to add to the photos and links as I write new Cetacean Blogs.
Risso's Dolphin: Torpoint, Cornwall, UK (15 June 18)
Bottlenose Dolphin: Captive individual at the Eilat Sealife Centre, Israel (9 Apr 14)
Bottlenose Dolphin: Crossing to Bardsey, North Wales (18 Jun 15)
Bottlenose Dolphin: Ascension Island (24 Apr 18)
Bottlenose Dolphin: At sea between Ascension Island and Cape Verde (29 Apr 18)
Bottlenose Dolphin: At sea between Cape Verde and the Canary Islands (3 May 18)
Pantropical Spotted Dolphin: St Helena (18 Apr 18)
Pantropical Spotted Dolphin: A large pod at sea between Ascension Island and Cape Verde (28 Apr 18)
Atlantic Spotted Dolphin: Leaving Cape Verde (1 May 18)
Atlantic Spotted Dolphin: At sea between Cape Verde and the Canary Islands (3 May 18)
Atlantic Spotted Dolphin: At sea off the Canary Islands (4 May 18)
Spinner Dolphin: A large pod at sea between Ascension Island and Cape Verde (27 Apr 18)
Clymene Dolphin: At sea between St Helena and Ascension Island (21 Apr 18)
Clymene Dolphin: Close acrobatics from a Clymene Dolphin between Ascension Island and Cape Verde (28 Apr 18)
Striped Dolphin: A pod at sea between St Helena and Ascension Island (22 Apr 18)
Striped Dolphin: At sea between Cape Verde and the Canary Islands (2 May 18)
Striped Dolphin: At sea off the Canary Islands (4 May 18)
Striped Dolphin: At sea between Madeira and Portugal (6 May 18)
Striped Dolphin: At sea off Portugal (7 May 18)
Striped Dolphin: In Southern Biscay from the Brittany Ferry (15 Aug 18)
Short-beaked Common Dolphin: Crossing Lochmaddy to Uig, UK (17 Oct 15)
Short-beaked Common Dolphin: At sea off Tristan da Cunha (13 Apr 18)
Short-beaked Common Dolphin: Bay of Biscay (9 May 18)
Short-beaked Common Dolphin: Off St David's Head (6 July 18)
Short-beaked Common Dolphin: Mother & youngster in Northern Biscay from the Brittany Ferry (15 Aug 18)
Short-beaked Common Dolphin: Southern Biscay from the Brittany Ferry (15 Aug 18)
Southern Rightwhale Dolphin: At the Estancia Harberton museum, Argentina (27 Mar 18)
Commerson's Dolphin: At the Estancia Harberton museum, Argentina (27 Mar 18)